Villa Sant’Andrea, built a century ago as an elegant private residence, nestles unassumingly on the Bay of Mazzaro. Now an intimate hotel, it has retained the villa’s original charm - and it’s beautiful grounds, which include a private pebble beach overlooking the turquoise Ionian sea.
Belmond, the luxury hotel group that has owned the villa since 2010, have pulled it into the 21st century with luxurious interiors, an infinity pool, impeccable staff and a mouth-wateringly tasty restaurant, while maintaining an informal and relaxed atmosphere.
Located in Taormina, on Sicily’s east coast, the hotel is less than an hour from Catania airport. Taormina is a picturesque hillside town, Taormina has ancient fortifications and churches aplenty, not to mention the spectacular third-century BC Greco-Roman amphitheatre that comes complete with a full summer programme of live concerts, ranging from Pink Floyd to Carmen.
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Villa Sant’ Andrea is in the smaller seaside district, easily reached from the town centre via either the hotel’s complimentary hourly shuttle service, a €3 cable car, which runs every 15 minutes, or about a half-hour walk up a footpath (ideal to work up an appetite for your next meal).
Passing through the Sant’Andrea’s discrete gates from the small coastal road above, you arrive via a gently sloping drive. Given the hotel’s cliffside location, its layout is upside down, with the entrance on the top floor, which somehow reinforces that joyous sense of being on holiday, away from the daily norm.
Most of the rooms have spectacular sea views, best enjoyed from the private balcony. All are very comfortable and tastefully appointed: pillows and sheets feel sumptuous and the marble bathrooms are generously stocked with miniature Ortigia soaps.
What to do
A significant attraction for families is the private beach, where calm crystal waters await. Relax on a sun lounger, with waiter service, or try out one of the secluded beach cabanas. During summer months, the hotel offers a complimentary 90-minute boat rides three times a day - and this year, to celebrate its centenary, it is offering a longer coastal excursion. The boat will call in at the art nouveau railway station that played a role in one of the Godfather films, as well as the fishing village of Acitrezza and finally Catania, where you can explore the lively fish market on the way to the Piazza Duomo for lunch.
The more actively inclined will also find entertainment. You can enjoy a host of watersports directly from the hotel, including paddle-boarding, kayaking to other nearby bays and snorkelling or scuba diving from the beach. The Belmond will also arrange cycling tours to suit every level: the Godfather tour is a particular favourite, taking in locations from the film.
A visit to Mount Etna is also a must. The active volcano, snow-capped for much of the year, is accessible by either cable car and jeep - or by a range of hiking trails of various lengths. In September, the Etna bike marathon takes on the slopes on two wheels.
Food and drink
Villa Sant’Andrea’s Oliviero Restaurant, right by the beach, benefits from a lovely sea breeze across its terrace. The atmosphere is relaxed yet chic - come dressed entirely as you wish - and every table has spectacular sea views.
The buffet and a la carte breakfast included with your stay satisfies every palate and all levels of hunger, and will set you up for the day ahead. Dinner, meanwhile, offers all the culinary delights you’d hope for from a top Sicilian chef and restaurant. Perhaps the pyramid-shaped ravioli with goats cheese, grilled octopus or swordfish rolls?
Pepe, meanwhile - the head sommelier - will keep your glass topped up with delicious local wines, paired to your meal. Sicily has in recent years become quite the hotspot for wine, some of which is grown on the slopes of Etna.
Another fantastic option is the villa’s sister property, the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo. Situated in the main part of Taormina, it affords spectacular views of Mt Etna from the terrace and dining area. The food here - roasted scallops on chickpeas, or perhaps the steamed lobster on foie gras croquette - is served in a slightly more formal setting, ideal for a special occasion.
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